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Dr. Joe Ray practiced dentistry in three branches of the military


By Paula Walter

Dr. Joe Ray received his dental degree in Memphis, Tennessee on June 22, 1975.  “I think it was about 3:00 pm in the afternoon,” he recalled.  Ray was born in Mountain City and lived here for two years before his family relocated to Bristol, where he lived for five years.  The family packed up and headed up Interstate 81 to Blacksburg, Virginia for two years before making their way to Memphis, Tennessee for two months.  They headed next to Hillsville, Virginia where Ray attended high school.  From there, Ray moved to Blacksburg, Virginia to attend Virginia Tech, where he received his degree in three years and graduated in 1972.  His next stop was the University of Tennessee, where he earned his dental degree.
Shortly after graduation, Ray joined the United States Air Force.  “I wanted to get additional experience and training,” he said.  Ray spent three years at Travis Air Force Base.  The base is located in California.  At that time, he practiced general dentistry.  From there, Ray moved onto Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma.  He was one of two dentists for the entire base.  At that time, Ray served as the base oral surgeon.  After he left the Air Force, Ray moved to Marion, Virginia and was in private practice for three years.
In November of 1981, Ray decided to join the United States Navy. He was stationed in Pensacola, Florida for 18 months before going to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  There he served as a prosthodontist, specializing in the restoration of teeth.  Although he was on a Marine base, he was a Navy dentist who served with the Marine Corp and took orders from the base marine general.  He didn’t get any special treatment and was required to wear combat fatigues, go on hikes, camp and participate in physical training. According to Ray, he believes his training in the Air Force was the best he received.  “I had a great experience,” he said.
In 1985, Ray opened his own dental practice on Main Street in Mountain City and practiced for 27 years.  Despite retirement, Ray keeps a busy schedule.  “I do a lot of exercise, about six miles a day,” he said. Ray also volunteers his time at Heritage Hall and has initiated a ministry called Happy Helpers, made up of volunteers who help seniors and singles at no charge with work around the house, as well as yard work. He is a member of the hiking club, and serves as a deacon and board member for First Christian Church, as well as serving as the Sunday school superintendent.  Ray also helps with the food pantry run by the church and is a board member for the Johnson County Senior Center.

For more local military stories, pick up a copy of this week’s In Honor, In Memory, One Nation Under God special edition.